Fort Leonard Wood has been in the Ozarks for nearly 70 years, but what goes on there is a mystery to many in this area. Three university students are working to change that by making the military base’s internal operations more accessible and understandable to the outside world.
Missouri S&T has partnered with Fort Leonard Wood (FLW), the U.S. Army Base near St. Robert, Mo., to create three new technical communication internships. Technical communication helps people communicate effectively in a broad spectrum of professional and civic contexts.
Kasie Lercher, from the commanding general’s initiatives group at the fort, supervises the Missouri S&T students. “We are so fortunate to have these students working with us,” she says. “They bring perspective and a great skill set to the job, and help us communicate with a variety of audiences, including families and civilians, on- and off-post.”
Lercher credits Steve Tupper, Missouri S&T’s liaison with FLW, and Dr. Edward Malone, associate professor of English and technical communication and director of the technical communication programs at S&T, with making the partnership possible. “We just told them what skills we needed and they pulled it together,” she says.
The internships are paid 20-hour-a-week student positions. Among the students’ duties are web development, writing, editing and conducting research.
None of the students had any real knowledge of the military prior to the internship, and all three have found the experience eye-opening. At least two are considering pursuing careers with the Army after graduation.
“My idea of the Army has completely changed,” says Tara Dudney, a graduate student in technical communication from Newburg, Mo. “I have learned so much and have found the Army is comprised of intelligent, dedicated people working as a team to ensure the installation’s success.”
Dudney works at the Maneuver Support Center (MANSCEN) on web development, writing and editing articles as needed. “I use everything I have learned from my classes at Missouri S&T,” she says. “It’s been exciting applying my education to real-world situations. This internship has been one of my best academic experiences.”
Lindsey Dunstedter, a senior from Rolla, says she was neutral towards the Army prior to this experience. “There is a significant disconnect between the American public and the U.S. Army,” she says. “The average American does not even know what their Army does for them.”
Dunstedter also works at MANSCEN, spending most of her time researching and writing about the history, importance and purpose of the Army to tell its story to a civilian audience. “The installation is a highly motivating place to work, in part because of its focus on the team,” she says.
Graduate student Tessa Long, also from Rolla, has been writing a blog about her experiences at FLW, found online at www.civilianstandpoint.blogspot.com. She also writes for the post newspaper, “The Guidon.”
“The military is so littered with acronyms and jargon that outsiders, even newbies, can’t understand it,” she says. Her job is to sift through the lingo to discover what’s happening, and then explain it to her audience. “They only give me 600 words in the newspaper, so I blog about the other information that won’t fit.”
Her blog posts are entertaining narratives of her adventures at the fort. She’s written about her time with the military police (MPs), including watching the Special Reaction Teams (similar to SWAT teams) learn how to enter and clear a building in hostage situations, for example.
She toured the Evasive Driving Course, the only one of its kind in the entire Department of Defense. “They do things like ram cars, do J-turns and practice on the skid track,” she says. And she was invited to ride along during the maneuvers. “How many people can say they get paid to ride in a car doing things that look like stunts out of an action move, then blog about it?”
Long was also able to observe the Protective Services Training. Protective Specialists protect top government and military officials. She also learned how to shoot two of the automatic weapons. “I had never shot a gun before,” she says. “But it was completely safe – I was cleared, trained beforehand, wearing protective gear and surrounded by three weapons instructors while I fired them.”
She, too, has been changed by the experience. She says she initially had negative connotations about the military. “I’m ashamed to say I was shocked when I came here,” she says. “I learned the military actually aims to save lives, and protect and defend our nation.”
Her blog will, she hopes, help dispel misconceptions that exist. “I think the work I’m doing is important to the Army and to civilians,” she says. “My blog can help educate people about what the Army really does.”